When Royce Gracie first met Ken Shamrock in the semi-finals of UFC 1 on Nov. 12, 1993, he was an unknown 26-year-old Brazilian submission fighter.
Today, the world's most famous mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter says he could defeat his younger self, a bold statement for a man nearly nine years removed from the sport.
In two short weeks the men involved in that historic fight that took place more than 22 years ago will rematch in the main event of Bellator 149, a prospect which enticed the legendary fighter out of retirement and back inside a cage.
"I guess the guy's been losing sleep for, what, the last 20 years since I choked him out in less than a minute?" Gracie said recently to Inside MMA's Bas Rutten on AXS TV.
Gracie admitted it was Shamrock's return to the cage and subsequent "call outs" that lured him back as well. And damn, does it ever feel good.
"I miss this," said Gracie with a smile. "It brought me back alive."
He may be older and well past his prime, however the 6th degree black belt in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu says he's stronger and more experienced now. And unlike the old days he's actually training for fights, using techniques beyond just those taught in the Gracie Barra.
Besides, older fighters like him and Dan Severn and OIeg Taktarov and the other pioneers of MMA have something today's fighters will never have.
"We have charisma. A lot of fighters today don't have that. Back in the day with no gloves, no rules, everything goes and there was charisma. The fighter meant something."
Although the training and technique is more advanced today, Gracie adds that people still revere the old days, before time limits and weight classes and judges.
"I think what impressed everybody was fighting three, four fights on the same night against opponents bigger and stronger," said Gracie.
When asked to make a prediction for the main event at Bellator 149, the wily veteran suggested Shamrock doesn't have the endurance to last 15 minutes inside the cage with him. And although the fighter admits his striking is rudimentary enough that if Shamrock lands he could get knocked out, if he "missed that punch, I'm in."
So, is this a one off? Or will he keep fighting if he wins? To that question, Gracie is coy.
"That's up to Scott Coker. That's up to Bellator."